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Papertown and the Dirty Bird

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Thursday, April 27, 2023

This story is co-published with the Daily Yonder. Sign up for the Daily Yonder’s weekly newsletter here. Beyond the forested banks of the Pigeon River, the Smoky Mountains rise from either side of a steep gorge that leads to the town of Hartford, Tennessee. The river runs through the gorge from North Carolina, parallel to Interstate 40, before widening into a series of shallow, shining, and swift ripples and runs. Lining the shores on both sides are about a dozen rafting companies, one right after the other. The guides weren’t very busy on this April day early in the rafting season, so they had taken to the rapids in bright blue boats to enjoy the afternoon. When Jamie Brown was younger, back in the 1980s and ’90s, she never would have dreamed of doing such a thing. “The smell was horrendous,” she says of the river. “And it was black.”   The Pigeon River flows through Hartford, Tennessee, where it supports several thriving river-rafting businesses. Grist / Katie Myers Brown is old enough to remember when Hartford was known as “Widowville.” An unusually high number of people have died of cancer here over the years. Once, her father drove her to the headwaters of the Pigeon, where it ran clean and clear, then followed it to the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina, just over the state line from Hartford. He showed her where, below the mill, the river began to turn dark and foul. “My experience was understanding the headwaters, what it could be, and how vile it was, [and] what had been done to our community,” she says.  The paper mill has been a mainstay of Canton since 1908, a thriving part of what was once a burgeoning lumber and paper industry in western North Carolina. Around it sprang up the town. For now, the mill employs 1,100 people in well-paying union jobs, though it once employed more than 2,000. It was called Champion then, for the company that owned it. Champion pulled out in 1999 after a series of environmental lawsuits blamed it for the pollution and economic harm on Tennessee’s side of the river, and employees bought the mill to keep it running. Today, it’s owned by an international food-and-beverage packaging conglomerate called Pactiv Evergreen. White smoke billows from Evergreen Packaging, as seen from the highway exit to Canton. Nearby residents have complained of a sticky, white dust spraying from the plant. Grist / Katie Myers On March 6, Pactiv Evergreen abruptly announced the paper mill will close in June due to rising inflation and corporate restructuring. The news has been emotional on both sides of the river, with some in Hartford celebrating as Canton’s families mourn. In the minds of many Hartford residents, Canton’s prosperity had come at their expense; now, the closure may bring a measure of environmental justice and economic growth to Hartford even as Canton faces an uncertain future. But the region, home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is immensely popular with visitors, and a growing tourism industry has both communities wondering whether they will be able to ford the rising tide of development. Though new employers are desperately needed, people in both towns fear the rush for revenue and jobs will forever change their communities. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Brown says. The mill has long been the lifeblood of Canton. People wear shirts that declare they are “Mill Town Proud.” The coffee shop is called Papertown Coffee, and patrons park next to a mural that reads “Papertown.” Some communities hide their factories at the edge of town, but here it proudly stands in the center of everything, visible from every vantage point. Downtown is vibrant and alive, and mill workers fill local businesses at breakfast, lunch, and during shift changes. At noon, they order sandwiches with iced tea and pie at Black Bear Cafe, an old-school lunch counter tucked away from the bustle of downtown Canton. They’re all regulars, known by name. Black-and-white pictures of the good old days line walls, and the hum of conversation fills the air. Many of its employees have family working at the mill.  The Pactiv Evergreen paper mill is visible from every vantage point in town. It is the largest employer in the county. Grist / Katie Myers Pride for the paper mill runs deep in Canton, North Carolina. This sign was posted outside an auto parts store in town. Grist / Katie Myers The mill created quite a different feeling in Hartford, where many considered it an inescapable shadow over their lives. Some old-timers remember companies looking to set up shop in the area, only to pass it by, with the water quality as the suspected but unspoken reason. The water stank, and just as people came to call the town Widowville, the river — named for the passenger pigeons that once migrated through the area — acquired its own nicknames: the Dirty Bird and the Dead Pigeon. Tensions between the two towns, which sit about 40 miles apart, go back decades. Brown joined an activist group called the Dead Pigeon River Council in the 1980s. For years, the organization protested Champion Paper and attended hearings to demand the mill clean up its operations and stop contaminating the river. The fight for the river led to a lawsuit as scientists uncovered the harmful effects of PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” found in paper mill effluent. Eventually, Champion agreed to make almost $300 million worth of upgrades, and the river’s color and smell improved. But even after modernization, the employee buyout, and the switch to Pactiv Evergreen, the mill has logged violations of state environmental laws and sought waste-discharge permissions that have concerned environmental advocates, and there’s no removing the dioxin that’s long since settled into the river bottom.  It is against that backdrop that people in Hartford cheered Evergreen’s announcement. “I called our oldest member still living to tell him that they were closing the plant, and we cried together,” Brown says.   Jamie Brown, an environmental justice organizer from Hartford, Tennessee, remembers when the town was called “Widowville” for its high rate of cancer. Grist / Katie Myers Canton has faced its own consequences from the mill. In November, a mysterious white dust, like ash, fell from the stacks and settled over town. Below the mill, the Pigeon still runs darker than above it. And pungent smoke blankets the valley. But mill workers’ families say you can get used to anything if it’s how you make your living.  “My uncle used to say it smelled like money,” says one longtime resident who didn’t want to be identified. Like many people in Canton, her life teems with mill workers. Many of the men in her family have spent most of their working lives there. That’s typical of families here; the mill is the largest employer in Haywood County. It seems everyone knows someone who will lose their job come June. “It’s affected a lot of our family,” she says, holding back tears.  Mill workers, too, are equally tight-lipped to avoid any misunderstandings from an already fractured community. “The morale is down,” says one worker in his 60s. He’s lived here all his life and, like other families, doesn’t plan on leaving. Despite the changes in its leadership, he still feels connected to the mill.  “Morale is down” among employees of the paper mill, according to a longtime employee, left, who did not wish to be named. Despite its changes in leadership, he still feels a connection to the mill. Grist / Katie Myers “I haven’t said anything bad about the company, have I?” he says, winking. “That’s right.” The mill was hard work, but with overtime, a mill worker could make $82,000 per year, in a county with a per capita income of $31,200. Everyone belonged to United Steelworkers, Smoky Mountain Local 507, which provided a measure of security and fair treatment. The local has been dissolved, which is standard procedure in a case like this, but union reps from Pittsburgh are working to maximize severance and ensure Pactiv Evergreen honors its contract requirements to the very end. Unlike so many other industrial towns, Canton had been insulated from the ravages of globalization. Its public works still gleam, its people remain comfortable. The mill paid for the baseball field, the park, the YMCA. It runs the town’s water and sewer plants. A less charitable interpretation would be to say it’s a company town. But many here, like local historian and archivist Caroline Ponton, see it as a generosity, an indicator of Champion’s investment in its workers. But Champion hasn’t run the mill in 20 years. “As management is further away, it’s … a different chemistry,” Ponton says. And regardless, when Evergreen pulls out, there’s a real question of where the money to continue paying for those things will come from.  A mural in downtown Canton celebrates the town’s identity – and connection to a paper mill that opened in 1908. Grist / Katie Myers Such questions come up in any rural community that depends upon one or two industries for their economic survival and watches them leave. Brandon Dennison, the CEO of the West Virginia nonprofit Coalfield Development and a 2019 Grist 50 honoree, calls them “mono-economies” and says they create economic fragility. “The more diversified the local economy, the less catastrophic a single plant or mine closure is,” he says. Mayor Zeb Smathers has been turning those questions over in his mind constantly ever since he heard, by text message, that Evergreen executives had opted to close the mill. “It felt like a death in the family,” he says. Smathers, whose father was mayor from 1999 until 2011, hopes Canton can ride the coming wave of rapid economic transition, rather than find itself subsumed by it. Much of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee are booming, in no small part due the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains and its waterways. Smathers is proud of the mill’s modernization efforts over the years, even if he acknowledges that it’s been imperfect progress. “We have the best water in western Carolina,” he says, adding that he expects rafting to grow more popular around Canton after the mill closes.  About a dozen kayak and river-rafting businesses line the Pigeon River in Hartford, Tennessee, a town celebrating the closure of the paper mill but wondering about its own future. Grist / Katie Myers He has reason to be hopeful. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, long the nation’s most popular park, draws about 14 million visitors each year, and more than 200,000 people came to Cocke County in 2020 to ride the Pigeon River. But a recreational economy won’t feed everyone, particularly the old-timers who’ve been in the mill for decades. “You can’t make bubbas into baristas,” Smathers says. The town has been hosting regular job fairs, with a focus on manufacturing, health care, law enforcement, technical jobs, and other higher-paying professional work. Recently, the city government launched milltownstrong.com, a resource for workers as they make their next move. Smathers often finds himself in meetings with real estate developers and other investors, many of whom he says are practically knocking down his door to get into Canton. They see an opportunity to invest in real estate, open businesses, and spark the town’s boom as a tourist destination. Smathers has asked them to slow down a little as he gathers his thoughts and leads his community through June. There is a sense among locals that they aren’t about to be left behind by this transition, but overrun by it. Smathers sees the economies of east Tennessee and North Carolina growing, but he also knows that the resulting increase in the cost of living has tightly squeezed the area’s working class. “I think the die has been cast with how expensive it is to live in both respective places,” Smathers says. “It’s not slowing down. But that adds another layer of challenges to this. Because I want the people here to continue to live here and continue to contribute. But if you can’t, if it’s too expensive to live here, well, then that’s going to result in a net loss, not just [of] people, but [of] culture and place and history. It’s one of those things I do lose sleep over.” A window in downtown Canton is papered with advertisements for job fairs and resources to help mill workers who will lose their jobs by June. Grist / Katie Myers Folks in Hartford say that, although they feel for the workers, the paper mill closure can only help bring revenue to this cash-strapped side of the Smokies. Cocke County’s per capita income is just under $24,000, and one in five residents lives in poverty. Hartford doesn’t even have a sewer system, as small as it is. Rafting is the county’s second-largest source of revenue, after property taxes, and the number of people coming to ride the river has exploded since the pandemic. These days, Hartford buzzes with rumors of expanding development, a possible new resort that nobody knows much about, increasingly large rafting companies, and construction all along the river road.  Such things bring both trepidation and excitement. And many in Hartford believe Canton has a strong economic base to stand on, and that its high homeownership, pretty downtown, and company-paid parks and other amenities will ease it past this difficult moment into a brighter future. Brown has long since passed the baton of activism to a younger generation, many of whom, under the banner of newer organizations, continue organizing for environmental and economic justice. Amelia Taylor, who joined the Dead Pigeon River Council as a kid, now works as a guide on the river and remains politically engaged in her community. She wants to see Cocke County prosper, but she doesn’t want to see her home become like Gatlinburg, the glitzy tourist town down the road in Sevier County, Tennessee, where workers live in motels to make ends meet. “Let’s not pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” Taylor says. “They need to create good-paying service jobs, not low-paying service jobs.”  Memorabilia from the campaigns the Dead Pigeon River Council has waged against the paper mill over the years, from the collection of council member Steve Hodges. Grist / Katie Myers Taylor is unapologetically elated by the mill’s closure, and plans to throw a party to celebrate it this summer. But she also feels for the workers, some of whom expressed sympathy for Hartford’s plight over the years and fought from inside to bring the mill up to environmental standards. Other workers reacted angrily to protests with threats and shouting, but their ire didn’t change the eventual outcome. In the end, she says, the workers were bound to be sacrificed in the same way Hartford was. ​​”It’s interesting that the mill created such a sense of pride in Canton, yet now the mill is abandoning them in the name of profits,” she says. “Evergreen never cared about the workers. They were practicing business till it no longer became profitable for them.” Even as she hopes for the best, Taylor fears that the resort, and the tourism industry rapidly expanding in this corner of the Smoky Mountains, may be much like the paper mill — just another business looking to exploit the environment and those it employs, even as local leaders celebrate it for the jobs and revenue it brings. Such concerns are compounded by the feeling among many in this end of Tennessee that visitors are drawn not just by the natural beauty of the landscape, but by a curated rural mystique, a moonshine-drinking, truck-driving, deer-hunting caricature of mountain people like them. In that way, the people of Hartford and Canton face their uncertain future in tandem, once again brought together by circumstances, and by the river that connects them. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Papertown and the Dirty Bird on Apr 27, 2023.

On the Pigeon River, one town celebrates a paper mill's closure as another mourns — and both face an uncertain future.

This story is co-published with the Daily Yonder. Sign up for the Daily Yonder’s weekly newsletter here.

Beyond the forested banks of the Pigeon River, the Smoky Mountains rise from either side of a steep gorge that leads to the town of Hartford, Tennessee. The river runs through the gorge from North Carolina, parallel to Interstate 40, before widening into a series of shallow, shining, and swift ripples and runs. Lining the shores on both sides are about a dozen rafting companies, one right after the other. The guides weren’t very busy on this April day early in the rafting season, so they had taken to the rapids in bright blue boats to enjoy the afternoon. When Jamie Brown was younger, back in the 1980s and ’90s, she never would have dreamed of doing such a thing.

“The smell was horrendous,” she says of the river. “And it was black.”  

The calm waters of the Pigeon River flows through a lush, tree-lined gorge in Hartford, Tennessee.
The Pigeon River flows through Hartford, Tennessee, where it supports several thriving river-rafting businesses. Grist / Katie Myers

Brown is old enough to remember when Hartford was known as “Widowville.” An unusually high number of people have died of cancer here over the years. Once, her father drove her to the headwaters of the Pigeon, where it ran clean and clear, then followed it to the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina, just over the state line from Hartford. He showed her where, below the mill, the river began to turn dark and foul. “My experience was understanding the headwaters, what it could be, and how vile it was, [and] what had been done to our community,” she says. 

The paper mill has been a mainstay of Canton since 1908, a thriving part of what was once a burgeoning lumber and paper industry in western North Carolina. Around it sprang up the town. For now, the mill employs 1,100 people in well-paying union jobs, though it once employed more than 2,000. It was called Champion then, for the company that owned it. Champion pulled out in 1999 after a series of environmental lawsuits blamed it for the pollution and economic harm on Tennessee’s side of the river, and employees bought the mill to keep it running. Today, it’s owned by an international food-and-beverage packaging conglomerate called Pactiv Evergreen.

Large plumes of white smoke rise from the stacks to fill a blue sky above the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina.
White smoke billows from Evergreen Packaging, as seen from the highway exit to Canton. Nearby residents have complained of a sticky, white dust spraying from the plant. Grist / Katie Myers

On March 6, Pactiv Evergreen abruptly announced the paper mill will close in June due to rising inflation and corporate restructuring. The news has been emotional on both sides of the river, with some in Hartford celebrating as Canton’s families mourn. In the minds of many Hartford residents, Canton’s prosperity had come at their expense; now, the closure may bring a measure of environmental justice and economic growth to Hartford even as Canton faces an uncertain future. But the region, home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is immensely popular with visitors, and a growing tourism industry has both communities wondering whether they will be able to ford the rising tide of development. Though new employers are desperately needed, people in both towns fear the rush for revenue and jobs will forever change their communities.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Brown says.

The mill has long been the lifeblood of Canton. People wear shirts that declare they are “Mill Town Proud.” The coffee shop is called Papertown Coffee, and patrons park next to a mural that reads “Papertown.” Some communities hide their factories at the edge of town, but here it proudly stands in the center of everything, visible from every vantage point. Downtown is vibrant and alive, and mill workers fill local businesses at breakfast, lunch, and during shift changes. At noon, they order sandwiches with iced tea and pie at Black Bear Cafe, an old-school lunch counter tucked away from the bustle of downtown Canton. They’re all regulars, known by name. Black-and-white pictures of the good old days line walls, and the hum of conversation fills the air. Many of its employees have family working at the mill. 

A street running between two buildings in downtown Canton, North Carolina leads toward the paper mill in the distance. Billows of white smoke rise from its stacks.
The Pactiv Evergreen paper mill is visible from every vantage point in town. It is the largest employer in the county. Grist / Katie Myers
A small red yard sign that reads “have you prayed for the mill today?” stands in a grassy yard near a road in Canton, NC.
Pride for the paper mill runs deep in Canton, North Carolina. This sign was posted outside an auto parts store in town. Grist / Katie Myers

The mill created quite a different feeling in Hartford, where many considered it an inescapable shadow over their lives. Some old-timers remember companies looking to set up shop in the area, only to pass it by, with the water quality as the suspected but unspoken reason. The water stank, and just as people came to call the town Widowville, the river — named for the passenger pigeons that once migrated through the area — acquired its own nicknames: the Dirty Bird and the Dead Pigeon.

Tensions between the two towns, which sit about 40 miles apart, go back decades. Brown joined an activist group called the Dead Pigeon River Council in the 1980s. For years, the organization protested Champion Paper and attended hearings to demand the mill clean up its operations and stop contaminating the river. The fight for the river led to a lawsuit as scientists uncovered the harmful effects of PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” found in paper mill effluent. Eventually, Champion agreed to make almost $300 million worth of upgrades, and the river’s color and smell improved. But even after modernization, the employee buyout, and the switch to Pactiv Evergreen, the mill has logged violations of state environmental laws and sought waste-discharge permissions that have concerned environmental advocates, and there’s no removing the dioxin that’s long since settled into the river bottom. 

It is against that backdrop that people in Hartford cheered Evergreen’s announcement. “I called our oldest member still living to tell him that they were closing the plant, and we cried together,” Brown says.  

Jamie Brown, an environmental justice organizer from Hartford, Tennessee, sits in a deck chair outside a cafe. She wears a black shirt over a red plaid turtleneck and black pants.
Jamie Brown, an environmental justice organizer from Hartford, Tennessee, remembers when the town was called “Widowville” for its high rate of cancer. Grist / Katie Myers

Canton has faced its own consequences from the mill. In November, a mysterious white dust, like ash, fell from the stacks and settled over town. Below the mill, the Pigeon still runs darker than above it. And pungent smoke blankets the valley. But mill workers’ families say you can get used to anything if it’s how you make your living. 

“My uncle used to say it smelled like money,” says one longtime resident who didn’t want to be identified. Like many people in Canton, her life teems with mill workers. Many of the men in her family have spent most of their working lives there. That’s typical of families here; the mill is the largest employer in Haywood County. It seems everyone knows someone who will lose their job come June.

“It’s affected a lot of our family,” she says, holding back tears. 

Mill workers, too, are equally tight-lipped to avoid any misunderstandings from an already fractured community. “The morale is down,” says one worker in his 60s. He’s lived here all his life and, like other families, doesn’t plan on leaving. Despite the changes in its leadership, he still feels connected to the mill. 

A longtime millworker in Canton, North Carolina, stands on a green lawn alongside a staircase. He is wearing blue jeans, a blue shirt, and a ball cap.
“Morale is down” among employees of the paper mill, according to a longtime employee, left, who did not wish to be named. Despite its changes in leadership, he still feels a connection to the mill. Grist / Katie Myers

“I haven’t said anything bad about the company, have I?” he says, winking. “That’s right.”

The mill was hard work, but with overtime, a mill worker could make $82,000 per year, in a county with a per capita income of $31,200. Everyone belonged to United Steelworkers, Smoky Mountain Local 507, which provided a measure of security and fair treatment. The local has been dissolved, which is standard procedure in a case like this, but union reps from Pittsburgh are working to maximize severance and ensure Pactiv Evergreen honors its contract requirements to the very end.

Unlike so many other industrial towns, Canton had been insulated from the ravages of globalization. Its public works still gleam, its people remain comfortable. The mill paid for the baseball field, the park, the YMCA. It runs the town’s water and sewer plants. A less charitable interpretation would be to say it’s a company town. But many here, like local historian and archivist Caroline Ponton, see it as a generosity, an indicator of Champion’s investment in its workers. But Champion hasn’t run the mill in 20 years.

“As management is further away, it’s … a different chemistry,” Ponton says. And regardless, when Evergreen pulls out, there’s a real question of where the money to continue paying for those things will come from. 

A large blue mural in downtown Canton, North Carolina shows two bears and the word "Papertown" in large red letters.
A mural in downtown Canton celebrates the town’s identity – and connection to a paper mill that opened in 1908. Grist / Katie Myers

Such questions come up in any rural community that depends upon one or two industries for their economic survival and watches them leave. Brandon Dennison, the CEO of the West Virginia nonprofit Coalfield Development and a 2019 Grist 50 honoree, calls them “mono-economies” and says they create economic fragility. “The more diversified the local economy, the less catastrophic a single plant or mine closure is,” he says.

Mayor Zeb Smathers has been turning those questions over in his mind constantly ever since he heard, by text message, that Evergreen executives had opted to close the mill. “It felt like a death in the family,” he says. Smathers, whose father was mayor from 1999 until 2011, hopes Canton can ride the coming wave of rapid economic transition, rather than find itself subsumed by it.

Much of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee are booming, in no small part due the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains and its waterways. Smathers is proud of the mill’s modernization efforts over the years, even if he acknowledges that it’s been imperfect progress. “We have the best water in western Carolina,” he says, adding that he expects rafting to grow more popular around Canton after the mill closes. 

A large white sign that reads “learn to kayak here” on the side of a wood building alongside the Pigeon River in Hartford, Tennessee.
About a dozen kayak and river-rafting businesses line the Pigeon River in Hartford, Tennessee, a town celebrating the closure of the paper mill but wondering about its own future. Grist / Katie Myers

He has reason to be hopeful. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, long the nation’s most popular park, draws about 14 million visitors each year, and more than 200,000 people came to Cocke County in 2020 to ride the Pigeon River. But a recreational economy won’t feed everyone, particularly the old-timers who’ve been in the mill for decades. “You can’t make bubbas into baristas,” Smathers says. The town has been hosting regular job fairs, with a focus on manufacturing, health care, law enforcement, technical jobs, and other higher-paying professional work. Recently, the city government launched milltownstrong.com, a resource for workers as they make their next move.

Smathers often finds himself in meetings with real estate developers and other investors, many of whom he says are practically knocking down his door to get into Canton. They see an opportunity to invest in real estate, open businesses, and spark the town’s boom as a tourist destination. Smathers has asked them to slow down a little as he gathers his thoughts and leads his community through June. There is a sense among locals that they aren’t about to be left behind by this transition, but overrun by it. Smathers sees the economies of east Tennessee and North Carolina growing, but he also knows that the resulting increase in the cost of living has tightly squeezed the area’s working class.

“I think the die has been cast with how expensive it is to live in both respective places,” Smathers says. “It’s not slowing down. But that adds another layer of challenges to this. Because I want the people here to continue to live here and continue to contribute. But if you can’t, if it’s too expensive to live here, well, then that’s going to result in a net loss, not just [of] people, but [of] culture and place and history. It’s one of those things I do lose sleep over.”

Paper flyers and posters advertising job fairs and resources to help millworkers hang in the window of a cafe in Canton, North Carolina.
A window in downtown Canton is papered with advertisements for job fairs and resources to help mill workers who will lose their jobs by June. Grist / Katie Myers

Folks in Hartford say that, although they feel for the workers, the paper mill closure can only help bring revenue to this cash-strapped side of the Smokies. Cocke County’s per capita income is just under $24,000, and one in five residents lives in poverty. Hartford doesn’t even have a sewer system, as small as it is. Rafting is the county’s second-largest source of revenue, after property taxes, and the number of people coming to ride the river has exploded since the pandemic. These days, Hartford buzzes with rumors of expanding development, a possible new resort that nobody knows much about, increasingly large rafting companies, and construction all along the river road. 

Such things bring both trepidation and excitement. And many in Hartford believe Canton has a strong economic base to stand on, and that its high homeownership, pretty downtown, and company-paid parks and other amenities will ease it past this difficult moment into a brighter future.

Brown has long since passed the baton of activism to a younger generation, many of whom, under the banner of newer organizations, continue organizing for environmental and economic justice. Amelia Taylor, who joined the Dead Pigeon River Council as a kid, now works as a guide on the river and remains politically engaged in her community. She wants to see Cocke County prosper, but she doesn’t want to see her home become like Gatlinburg, the glitzy tourist town down the road in Sevier County, Tennessee, where workers live in motels to make ends meet. “Let’s not pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” Taylor says. “They need to create good-paying service jobs, not low-paying service jobs.” 

Memorabilia from the Dead Pigeon River Council in Hartford, Tennessee, is displayed on a table. A photo shows a banner reading, "Hey, Champion Paper Company - go Caroline free. Your dioxin is killing us."
Memorabilia from the campaigns the Dead Pigeon River Council has waged against the paper mill over the years, from the collection of council member Steve Hodges. Grist / Katie Myers

Taylor is unapologetically elated by the mill’s closure, and plans to throw a party to celebrate it this summer. But she also feels for the workers, some of whom expressed sympathy for Hartford’s plight over the years and fought from inside to bring the mill up to environmental standards. Other workers reacted angrily to protests with threats and shouting, but their ire didn’t change the eventual outcome. In the end, she says, the workers were bound to be sacrificed in the same way Hartford was. ​​”It’s interesting that the mill created such a sense of pride in Canton, yet now the mill is abandoning them in the name of profits,” she says. “Evergreen never cared about the workers. They were practicing business till it no longer became profitable for them.”

Even as she hopes for the best, Taylor fears that the resort, and the tourism industry rapidly expanding in this corner of the Smoky Mountains, may be much like the paper mill — just another business looking to exploit the environment and those it employs, even as local leaders celebrate it for the jobs and revenue it brings. Such concerns are compounded by the feeling among many in this end of Tennessee that visitors are drawn not just by the natural beauty of the landscape, but by a curated rural mystique, a moonshine-drinking, truck-driving, deer-hunting caricature of mountain people like them. In that way, the people of Hartford and Canton face their uncertain future in tandem, once again brought together by circumstances, and by the river that connects them.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Papertown and the Dirty Bird on Apr 27, 2023.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

An attempt to reckon with True Detective: Night Country’s bonkers season finale

Kali Reis explores the ice in True Detective: Night Country. | Michele K. Short/HBO What True Detective’s fourth season gets wrong about True Detective. To be a True Detective fan is to wrestle with uncomfortable contradictions. The first season is both a masterpiece of cosmic horror noir and a piece of art that feels like it was created not just by, but for men. It was a gritty treatise against toxic masculinity that still dehumanized women and ultimately reified the very thing it attempted to deconstruct. For all its critical acclaim and influence on prestige drama in the years that followed, True Detective also generated a deeply toxic fanbase. These fans were men who missed the point but who saw themselves as a vital part of the show’s metatextuality, the real “true detectives” all along. Ever since, that first season has primarily been remembered, not for its incredible acting, its brilliant aesthetic touches, that legendary six-minute tracking shot, nor even the now-ubiquitous line, “Time is a flat circle,” but for the misogyny. Its two subsequent seasons have mostly been forgotten altogether. All of these uneasy truths loom large over season four, True Detective: Night Country, 10 years after its progenitor. Every succeeding season of this anthology series has occupied a lose-lose position simply by not being season one. But season four, by virtue of being centered around two women — a local chief of police (Jodie Foster) and a state trooper (Kali Reis) trying to solve a mysterious set of murders in the unforgiving Alaskan north — has simultaneously raised the stakes for the series and revived all of True Detective’s messy paradoxes. Night Country’s new showrunner and writer/director Issa López needed to accomplish two risky, ambitious goals: The season had to justify itself as a creative follow-up to a work that’s very difficult to follow up, and rectify the notorious sexism of season one in a way that would hopefully allow the series to forge a new path. Its sixth episode, which aired Sunday on HBO, had to reconcile both goals in a satisfying finale. To many among True Detective’s original fanbase, outrage at the second goal has precluded an objective view of how well it’s succeeding at the first. By the same token, many longtime fans are so eager to see the second project succeed that they’re quick to dismiss all critiques of season four’s creative aims as pure misogyny. These seem like unbridgeable positions. But there’s unfortunately a third view: that Night Country’s creative flaws ultimately torpedo its efforts at feminist reclamation, shifting the season finale away from a compelling cosmic mystery and toward a hamfisted Me Too revenge plot that leaves a comic number of plot points unresolved and arguably weakens the whole series. (Note: Spoilers for Sunday’s season four finale abound.) Season Four’s clunky writing and direction never got what made True Detective work To be fair to López, this isn’t the first season of True Detective to miss the mark by a mile. Season two, a hasty, shoddy 2015 follow-up from series creator and season one writer Nic Pizzolatto, featured all the worst parts of season one on speed — the tortured masculinity, the presentation of women as little more than sexy window-dressing, and a poor imitation of all of Matthew McConaughey’s famous existential monologues as Rust Cohle shoehorned into vapid machismo nonsense from Colin Farrell’s dysfunctional detective. Perhaps to shift himself and HBO away from misplaced allegations of plagiarism, Pizzolatto cut out most of season one’s mesmerizing Weird fiction elements: murky occult figures, arcane Lovecraftian rituals, and worship of the “Yellow King.” If season two had too little of the supernatural, 2019’s third season was a true return to form, with Pizzolatto returning to the deep South and to a cold case tinged with occult horror, floating on a sense of nonlinear time, and backed by a soul-filled T Bone Burnett soundtrack. But by then, the world was a much different place, and True Detective had to compete with a field of its own descendants — shows as disparate as 2017’s Mindhunter and 2018’s The Terror, each successful at cordoning off a sliver of True Detective’s genius for themselves. Still, anchored by Mahershala Ali’s pitch-perfect turn as an aging detective who spends decades trying to solve a cold case, season three really clarified the True Detective formula: A labyrinthine mystery driven by deep characterization, replete with hints of a dark otherworldly version of reality, filmed with an attention to aesthetics, and written with a certain literary flourish. Perhaps most of all, True Detective has to have a philosophy — a commitment to engaging with those eldritch horrors, if only to nod to them and be on your way. On paper, Night Country ticks a lot of those boxes. Inspired by the recently solved Dyatlov Pass incident (an avalanche did it), the season follows a quest to solve the gruesome deaths of a team of scientists. The group was found naked, frozen, and apparently terrified to death in the tundra near the small town of Ennis, Alaska. Populated mainly by Iñupiat residents whose water has turned black due to pollution from an evil mining plant, Ennis has plunged into its annual winter stretch of sunless polar night, and tensions are high as the local police begin their investigation. Sheriff Danvers (Foster) and Trooper Navarro (Reis) work to solve the murders while navigating their own rocky history. The brutal, still-unsolved murder of an Iñupiaq activist has unexpected connections to the current crime; the women quickly realize they have to bury their differences and work together to solve all the murders at once. Michele K. Short/HBO Jodie Foster and Kali Reis explore the terror of the Arctic. Like season one, the finale brings us to a literal labyrinth, this time deep in the ice caves beneath Ennis. López has exchanged the Yellow King for an unnamed divine feminine spirit, perhaps Sedna or Mother Nature. (There’s also a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “Blue King” crab company throughout.) The locals all seem to be aware of “her,” and as our story progresses it becomes clear that some of them view the spirit of the murdered activist as synonymous with this ancient entity. In the final episode, we finally meet her — or at least we come as close to “her” as we can get. But the similarities to that first season are all surface. López didn’t originally plan to create Night Country as a part of the True Detective universe, and her efforts to incorporate callbacks to previous True Detective seasons make that painfully clear. Throughout season four, references to season one recur, but they usually lack context and aren’t justified by anything happening around them. We learn a season four character had a relationship with Rust Cohle’s father; but so what? We learn our evil mining corporation has ties to evil corporate overlords from previous seasons ... and? There are spirals everywhere, but we gain no enhanced understanding of what this familiar motif means. López picks up on the well-known line, “You’re asking the wrong question.” She has characters repeat variants of this statement over and over again throughout season four until it becomes preposterous, an annoying substitute for meaningful writing. Each reference, from “flat circle” to Funyuns, is purely fan service, a distracting blip on the map that contributes nothing to our understanding of the True Detective universe. The same goes for Night Country’s over-the-top horror elements, which range from pointless jump scares to spectral phenomena that appear for no reason. Where season two was completely devoid of the supernatural, Night Country is so full of ghosts that they lose all significance. Other aesthetic choices are so baffling as to be unintentionally hilarious. Night Country utilizes a bizarrely off-kilter soundtrack of somber minor-key covers of famous pop songs that are absolutely incongruous with the mood of the show, from Eagle-Eye Cherry’s 1997 bop “Save Tonight” to eerie Christmas music. In the finale, we get a dark emo needle drop of “Twist and Shout,” and the gravely intoned “Shake it up, baby” lands with such unbelievable dissonance that I burst into laughter. Night Country’s finale goes belly-up in the most frustrating way possible To be clear, both Foster and Reis are fantastic. Foster’s Sheriff Danvers keeps up a gruff loner hostility, pushing away her family, her partner, and her community, even as she works tirelessly to protect them all. When her exterior finally cracks open, it’s to reveal an unforgettable tapestry of grief and resilience. By contrast, Reis’s Navarro bleeds raw vulnerability throughout, running hot and then hotter as she gets closer to the truth in her long quest to find a killer, and perhaps an even more ancient quest to pursue the unknown spirit of the north. As individual characters, they fully fit into the tradition of True Detective’s spiritually clashing sleuths who galvanize each other through a charged mix of loathing and shared desperation. Yet Danvers’ cynicism and Navarro’s spirituality never satisfyingly cohere — a fundamental flaw that Night Country doesn’t fully overcome. For all that Reis is excellent, when she and Foster are onscreen together she seems stifled, limited to churlishness and sarcasm. In episode six, Foster delivers an acting master class as her character finally reveals a little of her personal heartbreak, only to be met with a disconnected non-response from Navarro. It’s as if López didn’t know how to follow her own mic drop, so didn’t bother trying. It’s a hesitance that encapsulates a season full of baffling choices and inconsistent characterizations. Perhaps the most baffling choice of all comes in the finale, when we finally learn that the murders of the scientists were facilitated by the women of Ennis, as payback for the murder of the activist — who, it turns out, the scientists themselves murdered and covered up, years ago. The show fully glosses over the improbable way the women learn about this cover-up to barrel toward what’s meant to be a righteous showstopper: They break into the science lab, armed to the teeth, and enact their vengeance, forcing the scientists to undress and fend for themselves in the brutal Arctic night. This climax comes off as a ludicrous, unearned payoff, with undeveloped cardboard villagers standing in as mouthpieces for larger political stances, as they have throughout the season for environmental activism and post-Roe medical care. Here, though, it’s as if López was determined to reverse-engineer a feminist morality play, even if it meant superseding all attempts at coherent storytelling. To add insult to injury, the biggest unresolved “mystery” of the show — the one we’re left to assume was the work of the mysterious Arctic god — involves a human tongue being dropped on the floor. That’s right. We’re meant to believe “she” made her presence known by ... spectrally drop-kicking a tongue under a lab table. (The season’s second-biggest mystery, Navarro’s fate at the end, gets left deliberately ambiguous in the finale’s closing shot. Did she walk into the tundra for good, following the siren song of the ice goddess a la Frozen 2, or did she come back alive? We can’t be certain, but the idea that she’s now a ghost herself would feel more satisfying if Navarro’s struggle and escalating mental breakdown had felt less like a casual aside every now and then.) This absurd plot resolution comes well after Pizzolatto himself reportedly shaded this season, calling the writing “stupid,” much to the delight of fanboys who couldn’t wait to bash the show purely on the basis of its female representation. Who do we root for? Of course we want to root for Night Country under these conditions, and the show has won a high score of “universal acclaim” on Metacritic. And yet I’ve got a dirty tongue backed by the world’s worst Lana Del Rey album that begs to differ. What’s most frustrating about all of this is that this mess needn’t have happened. There are plenty of examples of better written, better directed female crime-solving duos in communities of sisters doing it for themselves. Last year’s criminally underrated Australian dramedy Deadloch, for example, mined this formula for comedy gold and plenty of suspense alongside well-earned feminist proselytizing. But it did so by relying on whip-smart writing, a story that bears out the moral, and phenomenal acting and chemistry between its two leads — arguably the truest detectives of all in this farce. The downgrade from Pizzolatto’s season one craft to the clunky sophomoric writing of season four was probably avoidable. If Night Country had just been allowed to be its own thing, without any pressure to either live up to season one or abide by its Weird parameters, it probably would have been a much better show. We can’t fault HBO for wanting to revive one of its best franchises. But Night Country may ultimately go down as a reminder that sometimes it’s best to let sleeping eldritch creations lie.

‘Everything Here is Green’: Lithium Mining Complicates the Green Transition

In Covas do Barroso, a village in Portugal where a proposed lithium mine will irreparably alter the natural environment and the lives of its inhabitants, residents are pushing back on what the green transition really means.

Nestled between green mountains in northern Portugal, Covas do Barroso is a handful of stone houses gathered around the junction of two roads. A village of about 150 inhabitants, its economy is traditionally linked to livestock farming and agriculture. Here, since 2016, the British company Savannah Resources has been planning to create open-pit lithium mines. The company estimates that the mine can operate for twelve years, will employ 250 workers during that time, and will supply lithium for 500,000 electric car batteries. At the end of May 2023, the Portuguese Environment Agency gave its preliminary approval for the environmental impact assessment of the project, and construction is scheduled to start in 2024.  But in the opinion of many local residents, these mines should not be built. Once the plans reached the public, community members joined together to form Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso (UDCB), and the group opposes this project with demonstrations, assemblies, tent camps, and legal actions.  Lithium mining in Barroso is among the projects at the center of a corruption investigation that engulfed the Portuguese government beginning on November 7, 2023. The fight over these mines is therefore not as local as it might seem. Indeed, the banner welcoming visitors to Covas do Barroso, “Não às Minas, Sim à Vida” (“No to Mines, Yes to Life”), poses inescapable questions about the global model of green transition. Classroom B.02 at the University of Vila Real is full, and all attention is directed toward the speaker standing behind a desk at the front of the room: “My name is Nelson Gomes and I live in Covas do Barroso.” Gomes is president of the UDCB and explains that the mines would completely disrupt the environment of the valley and the lives of its inhabitants.  “They accuse us of being unwilling to sacrifice ourselves for the planet,” says Gomes, “but we already sacrifice ourselves with our way of life and farming.” In the audience are students, professors, researchers, and interested people.  Mariana Riquito, a researcher at the University of Coimbra, said, “It is a falsification to talk about a right green transition. It cannot be just if it does not respect the autonomy of the local populations, it cannot be a transition if, to implement it, you intensify the consumption of fossil [fuel] energy. It cannot be green if it only considers the problem of emissions and not the consequences of the mining and extractive industry.”  A professor from the audience asks whether the mine project might represent a development opportunity for the area. Gomes calmly takes the floor to reply: “Covas do Barroso has been a [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] World Heritage Site for agriculture since 2018, the mine is incompatible with the development of the area. They talk to us about compensation, minimization, and landscape restoration. But the relationship with nature is the only reason to live in such an isolated place. What development is possible for an area where no one would want to live?”  According to Gomes, the problem that needs to be addressed is broader. “We need to question the energy transition, as it’s a model centered on extractivism. The alternatives are there, starting with the development of public transport.”  He concludes: “Keep in mind that such an imposition could one day happen to you too, where you live.” A stream, swollen after the rains, washes the road under the chestnut trees leading to the village of Alijò. A farmer named Paulo Pires approaches, smiling. “I come all the way here because I can use some pastures for grazing.” He has 170 sheep, and his business, like that of the other shepherds and farmers of Covas do Barroso, is threatened by lithium mining. “Part of my land is in danger of being included in the mine area. Where will I graze the sheep?”  Pires is worried that the valley’s water resources will be compromised. “With the drilling, some farmers are already now complaining about the lack of water in the wells,” says Pires. “What will happen to the troughs and streams?”  He explains that there are also plans to build mines in other regions. That is why, according to Pires, it is important to be able to broaden our perspective: “Of course lithium is needed for batteries. It is essential for the energy transition. But we should ask ourselves what we use this energy for. Is lithium supposed to make consumerism sustainable? And what green transition are we talking about if we destroy the green? Look!” he exclaims, laughing. “Everything here is green!” Sitting at his desk, Fernando Quieroga says, “From the beginning as the Municipal Chamber we have opposed the lithium mine.” He is the mayor of Boticas, the municipality to which the hamlet of Covas do Barroso, almost twenty kilometers away from this office, belongs. “It is a different kind of mining activity from those that were already present in the area,” explains the mayor. “It may affect the living conditions and health of the members of our community.”  Another issue concerns water. Quieroga and others are “very alarmed because there is a risk of compromising the phreatic level” and, consequently, the area’s water resources. “They say that such a sparsely populated area has only to gain from such a project,” he says with a bitter smile. “But if we look at the lithium value chain, in addition to mining, there is battery production, electric car fabrication, and finally battery recycling. All these industrial activities will be elsewhere. Nothing will remain here.”  Regarding future prospects, the mayor uses clear words: “As far as it is in our power, we will not give authorizations, but if the government decides to go ahead, it risks facing a popular uprising.” Riquito looks pleased at the entrance of the former primary school in Covas do Barroso. “Now it’s good!” she says. She and her friend Paloma have just finished cleaning the entrance. Closed for many years, the building has now been reborn and is called A Sachola, thanks in part to young people like them who moved here to support the struggle against mining. The banner at the entrance reads “Encontro Solidario Anti-Extractivista” (Anti-Extractivist Solidarity Meeting).  “We have to finish setting up the space,” Riquito explains, showing me the large room inside. “In a week’s time we will have a [film] screening. We want this space to be a place of aggregation and sociality for the inhabitants of the village, but at the same time also a meeting point between the local community and those from outside.” Aida Fernandes is president of the Baldios of Covas do Barroso, the organization that manages the common lands of civic use, which are among the most threatened by mining projects. “Savannah has bought some land, but a lot of drilling is taking place in the common lands, especially in the forests,” explains Fernandes. “So we come to stop the works, claiming the use of that land for the community.” From the top of the Olhar do Guerreiro viewpoint, the entire valley is visible, including the drilling areas—partly covered by vegetation—all around the village.  Fernandes points to a spot southeast of the village. “Over there is the area they are really focusing on. It seems to be the richest,” she says. It is an expanse of pine trees on a hillside. “Just think, that whole area should become an open pit, it will be dug up to a depth of 150 meters for a diameter of 500 meters. Eighty percent of the material will be waste, the remaining 20 percent will have to be washed, even chemically, to extract the lithium fitted there in less than 2 percent in any case.” In recent years, says Fernandes, the struggle against lithium extraction in Covas do Barroso has found broad support from the most diverse parts of society.  “This is not about slowing down the work and obtaining small results,” she says decisively. “It is not enough to win battles. You have to win the war.” The sun goes down. A farmer leads the cows to the stable with a hoe slung across his shoulder as he crosses the central village square. On one side is the sports field, where the summer camp against lithium mining was held. Countless colorful banners hang on the fence, against mining, for village life, for water, and for nature. Directly opposite, on the other side of the square, behind a dark door, guarded by cameras, is the small office of Savannah Resources. Photojournalist Giacomo Sini's work has been published in Vice, El Pais, Neon Stern, L'Express, Humanité Dimanche, Il Manifesto, Corriere del Ticino, NZZ, Die Zeit, Taz, National Geographic, The Week, and other outlets. He is based in Italy. Read more by Giacomo Sini February 16, 2024 4:26 PM

New Mexico May Finally Reform Oil and Gas Industry With Slate of Bills

Pennsylvania governor, who promised 30% renewable electricity by 2030, is suddenly silent. The post New Mexico May Finally Reform Oil and Gas Industry With Slate of Bills appeared first on .

Welcome to “Feet to the Fire: Big Oil and the Climate Crisis,” a biweekly newsletter in which we share our latest reporting on how the fossil fuel industry is driving climate change and influencing climate policy in five of the nation’s most important oil- and gas-producing states. In addition, we shine a spotlight on the financing of the fossil fuel industry, holding banks and other financial institutions accountable for their role and providing you with updates on their activities. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter in Substack. New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Industry Could See Big Change With Slate of Bills  New Mexico, the country’s second-largest oil producer, failed to take steps last year to reform its fossil fuel industry. This year, with the beginning of the state Legislature’s session, lawmakers  will see a half-dozen bills that could spell big changes for the oil and gas industry through new oil well placement restrictions, increased fines and higher royalty payments, among other possible shifts. The industry is keeping a close eye on the bills. A spokesperson for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association tells The Slick’s Jerry Redfern that the group “and its industry members support legislation that is grounded in science,” noting that the oil and gas industry funds much of the state’s budget. Decision to Scrap Resource Management Plans Confuses Both Enviros and Industry Also in the state, a quietly announced decision by a regional office of the powerful New Mexico Bureau of Land Management united both environmentalists and oil and gas industry leaders — in confusion. The announcement that the Farmington office of the agency was scrapping work on a long-awaited update to the district’s resource management plans — which would have overhauled the playbook for vetting new oil and gas development over more than 4 million acres of federal, private and Native lands in northwestern New Mexico — “allows industry to move at the speed of last century’s status quo,” a Navajo conservation activist tells Redfern. Pennsylvania Gov. Shapiro Promised 30% Renewable Electricity by 2030, But Little is Happening  When he took office, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro was resolute in setting an ambitious goal — making sure that 30% of the energy sold in the state by 2030 would come from renewable sources, up from 8%. A year later, his office has provided no updates on what the administration is doing to reach that 30% goal, reports The Slick’s Audrey Carleton. That includes not taking a position on a bill in the Legislature that would update the state’s energy standards to require that 30% of its energy sales come from renewable sources. Fossil Fuel Sector Loses Ground Again, Dragging Down Stock Market Returns Oil companies reported a 30% decline in annual projects in 2023, with the sector posting an annual loss of almost 5%, according to a new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which concluded that “it wasn’t just a bad year to invest in fossil fuels — but a bad decade.” The group’s energy finance analyst Dan Cohn said, “The era of stable, blue-chip returns from the fossil fuel sector is long gone.” In comparison, fossil-free equity indices are picking up steam and proving to be better investments. (See chart below.)   NYC Pension Funds Take Aim at Banks Over Fossil Fuel Financing The day after Europe’s biggest pension fund, Dutch ABP, warned banks that they might divest in banks that continue financing fossil fuel projects, New York City took a similar step. City  Comptroller Brad Lander and trustees of four NYC pension funds — New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, Board of Education Retirement System and New York City Police Pension Fund — filed shareholder proposals with six major North American banks asking them to fully report their ratios of clean energy to fossil fuel finance and to speed up their stated goals of achieving net zero emissions. The six banking institutions are Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase and Royal Bank of Canada. ING Threatened With Lawsuit Over Continued Financing of Oil and Gas Dutch banking giant ING is the latest to be threatened with legal action over its continued investment in fossil fuel companies. Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of the nonprofit Friend of the Earth, announced that it plans to sue the bank, claiming that its financing of fossil fuel projects has increased carbon emissions and contributed to global warming. Last year, climate activist groups sued BNP Paribas, claiming that the French bank’s financing of oil and gas companies violated a French law requiring companies to draft environmental damage vigilance plans. It was described by Oxfam as the world’s first climate suit against a commercial bank. That case is ongoing. HSBC Accused of Reneging on Its Promise to Stop Financing New Oil and Gas Fields Banking giant HSBC shocked the finance world and won plaudits from climate groups with its announcement in December 2022 that it would stop financing new oil and gas fields. But that same day, HSBC bankers began selling shares in Saudi Aramco, one of the biggest oil giants in the world, sources tell The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), adding that “the bank’s policy has been cleverly worded to allow it to fund some of the world’s biggest polluters while boasting about its green credentials.” Since the announcement, the bank has helped raise more than $47 billion for companies expanding the production of oil and gas, per TBIJ. In response, HSBC said its policy allows the bank to continue providing finance “at a corporate level” and its approach “is based on the latest science for achieving net zero and follows the UN-backed approach for climate target setting and net zero alignment for banks.” Bank of America Backtracks on Its 2022 Vow to Stop Financing New Coal Projects At the start of February, Bank of America, one of the largest financiers of fossil fuel projects in the world, echoed HSBC’s backtrack. Two years ago, Bank of America won praise from climate groups for announcing that it would stop financing new coal mines, coal-fueled power plants or Arctic drilling projects. But in its latest environmental and social-risk policy, it pulls back from those commitments, saying only that such projects will undergo “enhanced due diligence.” The move comes in the wake of intense attacks on “woke finance” from conservative lawmakers targeting banks for their environmental policies, the New York Times reported. Barclays Says It Will Stop Financing New Oil and Gas Projects And British bank Barclays took a step forward by announcing Feb. 9 that it will stop directly financing new oil and gas projects, as well as restrict lending to energy companies involved in fossil fuel production. The move was outlined in its Transition Finance Framework amid pressure from climate groups over its energy policy. Barclays was Europe’s biggest financier of fossil fuel projects between 2016 and 2022, according to the Rainforest Action Network. In response to the new announcement, nonprofit ShareAction said it was withdrawing a proposed shareholder resolution that pushed for the bank to halt its financing of such projects. Copyright 2024 Capital & Main

Pipeline project in Mexico threatens vital coral reefs

A proposed natural gas pipeline off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico, by TC Energy, risks damaging a newly discovered, vibrant marine ecosystem, raising concerns among scientists and local communities.Avery Schuyler Nunn reports for Grist.In short:Scientists and activists reveal a thriving coral ecosystem where TC Energy plans to build a pipeline, contradicting the company's claim of only sand existing there.The pipeline could disrupt local livelihoods and exacerbate climate change impacts, despite TC Energy's claims of sustainable design.Environmental groups, led by Greenpeace, are mobilizing against the project, emphasizing its potential harm to marine life and community welfare.Key quote: “They aren’t giving access to enough of the information, and during the operation of the pipeline, there could be accidents that would come with great consequences for the corals and ecosystem.” — Pablo Ramirez, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace MexicoWhy this matters: This pipeline project not only threatens a significant marine habitat but also highlights the ongoing conflict between fossil fuel infrastructure development and environmental conservation. Its impact extends beyond environmental concerns, affecting local communities and Mexico's broader commitment to combating climate change.Major pipelines hit legal snags. But it’s business as usual in Texas.

A proposed natural gas pipeline off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico, by TC Energy, risks damaging a newly discovered, vibrant marine ecosystem, raising concerns among scientists and local communities.Avery Schuyler Nunn reports for Grist.In short:Scientists and activists reveal a thriving coral ecosystem where TC Energy plans to build a pipeline, contradicting the company's claim of only sand existing there.The pipeline could disrupt local livelihoods and exacerbate climate change impacts, despite TC Energy's claims of sustainable design.Environmental groups, led by Greenpeace, are mobilizing against the project, emphasizing its potential harm to marine life and community welfare.Key quote: “They aren’t giving access to enough of the information, and during the operation of the pipeline, there could be accidents that would come with great consequences for the corals and ecosystem.” — Pablo Ramirez, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace MexicoWhy this matters: This pipeline project not only threatens a significant marine habitat but also highlights the ongoing conflict between fossil fuel infrastructure development and environmental conservation. Its impact extends beyond environmental concerns, affecting local communities and Mexico's broader commitment to combating climate change.Major pipelines hit legal snags. But it’s business as usual in Texas.

A Loophole Got Him a Free New York Hotel Stay for Five Years. Then He Claimed to Own the Building

A man who succeeded in using a New York City housing law live rent-free in an iconic hotel has been charged with fraud after he claimed to own it

NEW YORK (AP) — For five years, a New York City man managed to live rent-free in a landmark Manhattan hotel by exploiting an obscure local housing law.But prosecutors this week said Mickey Barreto went too far when he filed paperwork claiming ownership of the entire New Yorker Hotel building — and tried to charge another tenant rent.On Wednesday, he was arrested and charged with filing false property records. But Barreto, 48, says he was surprised when police showed up at his boyfriend's apartment with guns and bullet-proof shields. As far as he is concerned, it should be a civil case, not a criminal one.“I said ’Oh, I thought you were doing something for Valentine’s Day to spice up the relationship until I saw the female officers,'” Barreto recalled telling his boyfriend.Barreto's indictment on fraud and criminal contempt charges is just the latest chapter in the years-long legal saga that began when he and his boyfriend paid about $200 to rent one of the more than 1,000 rooms in the towering Art Deco structure built in 1930.Barreto says he had just moved to New York from Los Angeles when his boyfriend told him about a loophole that allows occupants of single rooms in buildings constructed before 1969 to demand a six-month lease. Barreto claimed that because he'd paid for a night in the hotel, he counted as a tenant. He asked for a lease and the hotel promptly kicked him out.“So I went to court the next day. The judge denied. I appealed to the (state) Supreme Court and I won the appeal," Barreto said, adding that at a crucial point in the case, lawyers for the building's owners didn't show up, allowing him to win by default.The judge ordered the hotel to give Baretto a key. He said he lived there until July 2023 without paying any rent because the building's owners never wanted to negotiate a lease with him, but they couldn't kick him out.Manhattan prosecutors acknowledge that the housing court gave Barreto “possession” of his room. But they say he didn't stop there: In 2019, he uploaded a fake deed to a city website, purporting to transfer ownership of the entire building to himself from the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which bought the property in 1976. The church was founded in South Korea by a self-proclaimed messiah, the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon.Barreto then tried to charge various entities as the owner of the building “including demanding rent from one of the hotel’s tenants, registering the hotel under his name with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection for water and sewage payments, and demanding the hotel’s bank transfer its accounts to him,” the prosecutor’s office said in the statement.“As alleged, Mickey Barreto repeatedly and fraudulently claimed ownership of one of the City’s most iconic landmarks, the New Yorker Hotel,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.Located a block from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, the New Yorker has never been among the city's most glamorous hotels, but it has long been among its largest. Its huge, red “New Yorker” sign makes it an oft-photographed landmark. Inventor Nikola Tesla lived at the hotel for for a decade. NBC broadcasted from the hotel’s Terrace Room. Boxers, including Muhammad Ali, stayed there when they had bouts at the Garden. It closed as a hotel in 1972 and was used for years for church purposes before part of the building reopened as a hotel in 1994.The Unification Church sued Barreto in 2019 over the deed claim, including his representations on LinkedIn as the building's owner. The case is ongoing, but a judge ruled that Barreto can't portray himself as the owner in the meantime.A Unification Church spokesperson declined to comment about his arrest, citing the ongoing civil case.In that case, Baretto argued that the judge who gave him “possession” of his room indirectly gave him the entire building because it had never been subdivided.“I never intended to commit any fraud. I don’t believe I ever committed any fraud,” Barreto said. “And I never made a penny out of this.”Barreto said his legal wrangling is activism aimed at denying profits to the Unification Church. The church, known for conducting mass weddings, has been sued over its recruiting methods and criticized by some over its friendly relationship with North Korea, where Moon was born.He said he has never hired a lawyer for the civil cases and has always represented himself. On Wednesday, he secured a criminal defense attorney.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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